Written and submitted to People of PEC by Emily Boone:
Completely poised and confident, Emily Boone stood before a room full of veterans and her community. Her speech on Remembrance Day at Picton United Church on November 11, 2016 was both eloquent and deeply moving.
In memory of the late Russell Burrows.
In her own words:
“Many of you are likely wondering why you are looking at a high school student rather than a veteran of war with much more experience in these matters. It’s quite clear that I am not old enough to have lived through the second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or even the Cold War. I have, instead, lived in the safe and peaceful community of Prince Edward County for as long as I can remember. And, up until about five years ago, I had almost nothing to do with any kind of international war or conflict. Truthfully, not many kids do. All I knew was that it was respectful to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies, and that my grandfather survived the Korean War, but died before I was born. As a child it bothered me immensely to have never met this mysterious veteran, who was always described by my family to have carried around a sadness that he refused to share. I thought to myself that if I had been born just a bit earlier, I could have found the source of his depression and destroyed it so he wouldn’t have had to suffer so much. Not once, however, did I consider that this sadness might have been due to his time in war. At the age of seven, I saw war only as something that Canada always won; a time of victory… Not as a source of pain and suffering.
As I grew older I began to hear more and more stories of war, yet it wasn’t until I met Russell Burrows that I began to truly understand it. At first he was only a man who relentlessly called my Nanny asking for a date; but within only a few short months he became my grandfather. I would walk to his house and visit with him and my Nanny for hours, talking about things ranging from the importance of school, to the supposed gremlins in his basement. He was always the perfect gentleman, as well. After having answered the door personally, Russ insisted that all of his guests were seated and fed, with every one of their needs promptly attended to before worrying about his own. He always ensured that anyone who came to his house would never be hungry while they were there. If I ever had a problem or a concern, I could consistently count on Russ to fix it, or to at least put it into perspective. As the epitome of positivity, he always saw the best of every situation. Furniture, included. Russ’ workshop, although dusty and covered with wood shavings, had a character similar to his own. With a broken chair in one corner, a beautiful and gleaming table in another, it was a place of transformation where what were once considered damaged goods could become whole once again. One of Russ’ favourite pieces of advice, whether it concerned furniture or something more complex, was if you had worried about a problem for 24 hours and nothing had changed then it was out of your control and “everything was just going to hell in a handbasket.” In that case, he might even be tempted to break out his favourite drink – rye and ginger ale.
When we talked about war, however, he neither refused to answer my questions nor became too depressed to carry on; but, instead, frowned slightly, chuckled, and told me his story. From the failure of the Dieppe Raid, to his escape from a German internment camp while on something similar to a death march; what he suffered through continues to astonish me, today. It is common knowledge that more research and planning for the battle in Dieppe could have easily meant the difference between life and death for the hundreds of Canadians killed. Russia could have gained its second front, German defences could have been both assessed and destroyed, and the 5000 Canadians who fought could have emerged victorious. Russ would not have been captured at gunpoint and taken prisoner of war for two years and eight months. He wouldn’t have been forced to march through harsh winter conditions without food, accompanied by several other prisoners of war and guards. And he would not have had to witness dozens of his friends die both during that morning in Dieppe, and throughout his time as a prisoner of war. Everything would be different. Yet, somehow, throughout all of this, he never resented the German soldiers who held him in the camp. His jovial personality even won over a few of the guards who would often sneak food to him. It was here that he celebrated his 21st birthday with a candle in a piece of black bread provided by a guard. After all, just like Russ – who had originally enlisted as a lumberjack with the Royal Canadian Engineers – they had a job to do, too. When he was, however, granted with a small chance of escape, while trudging through the blizzards and horrible weather of the march westward, he took it. Along with two of the friends he made in the camp, he reached a farmhouse where a woman who had already lost one of three sons to the war, with her two remaining sons and husband still serving, cared for them as though they were family; offering them potato pancakes which they gratefully accepted, clothing, blankets, and a place to hide. After taking the first baths and shaves they had had in months, the three prior prisoners of war eventually made it to England for VE day, which always seemed to remain his most recommended travel destination.
There is, however, a great deal that even Russ could not put into words; saying only that you couldn’t understand what it was like unless you were there. And perhaps the worst feeling is that of knowing that I couldn’t have done anything. It doesn’t matter how hard I try. But through this story, I have learned something irreplaceable. That war is not a story. It isn’t a movie, and it isn’t a history lesson. It is real. And no matter how many times that you’re assured it is only in the
past, it isn’t. Between the current battles overseas, and the fresh memories in the minds of veterans as well as the families of those lost in war, everywhere, it will never be over. And believing so is insulting. Because, even though we can’t travel back in time and fight for peace, there’s something that we can do. We must remember both the victories and the disasters, we cannot let them fade away because they define the future. And so do we. When Russ died, I mourned for a long time. But I refuse to ever let his experience or his morals die with him. They will live on forever, not only in my mind and heart, but I hope in all of yours, as well. Although these services and the many dinners held in their honour allows us to truly consider what those who have fought in war for Canada have experienced, it doesn’t change what they have both sacrificed and what some are still undergoing. What they have faced, so that I can stand here today, having grown up in a community where most children know very little of war. So, I am not only going to offer my most sincere gratitude, but I am going to promise that I, will never forget.“